co-packer Co-Packers?

Hello!
 
I have read several articles on The Hot Pepper regarding the making and selling of pepper sauces. From cooking and sterilizing, to insurance and zoning, it's not feasible for anyone but a dedicated sauce maker. But what about the use of a co-packer? For those of you who don't know what a co-packer is, let me save you from a few seconds on Google.
 
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Product being hot-bottled at a co-packer. Source: www.summitbottling.com
 
A co-packer is simply a company that makes your product for you. They use your recipe, exactly as your write it. They analyse your recipe (after signing a non-disclosure agreement first) and determine the needs to create it. Then, they use their commercial kitchen and industrial equipment to create and bottle your product. Many offer a full lab analyses to ensure that your product is safe and meets FDA regulations. On top of that, some offer labeling and other additional services. Then, the product is shipped back to you for marketing and selling. The benefit of using a co-packer is that they can produce large quantities of your recipe quickly, keeping you from having to worry about the expense and hassle of making it yourself. Since they are the ones making it, the product falls under their insurance and alleviates you from any liability should there be an accident.
 
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A full-size co-packer producing chocolate for a client. Source: www.bffdirect.com
 
The downsides to using a co-packer are as follows:
 
1. You don't make your sauce. You miss out on the fun of birthing your creation yourself. However, with a co-packer producing the selling-safe products to help fund your hobby, you can make your own personal batches at home.
 
2. Co-packers can be expensive. I can't quote any prices, because they vary by recipe. But you have to pay these guys for overhead, labor, ingredients, bottles, and insurance. On top of that, you need to have your product shipped. Not very good for small businesses or individuals.
 
3. Co-packers require your order to be big. Because these companies buy everything in bulk and dedicate large machines to one product at a time, co-packers often require a commercial-sized order. A common minimum is often One Skid. That's over 1,000 fluid ounces, and a lot of product. Again, small businesses and individuals can't really utilize this.
 
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The shipping floor of a full-size co-packer. Note the size of the orders. Source: www.packworld.com
 
But there are co-packers out there that do offer small-batch orders. These co-packers are usually dedicated to production for small businesses. Rather than using large machinery, they do more by hand and run more like a commercial kitchen than a factory. They also offer reasonable pricing that individuals can afford.
 
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A kitchen more akin to that of a small co-packer. Source: www.commercialkitchenguy.com
 
So now that we're all on the same page, I would like to know:
 
-Do/have any of you use(d) a co-packer to make your sauce?
-What was your experience like?
-Do you recommend it for the home sauce-meister?
 
I'm looking forward to reading about your opinions and experiences.
 
 
Stay Spicy,
 
-Styrkr
 
Kalitarios said:
 The price you quoted is higher than I paid but consider this:
You are doing a setup run for a large-batch operation.  They do a trial run, by hand.  They send you a few bottles so you can be 110% sure your sauce is where you want it.  Figure 2 hours plus materials to make about a quart of sauce, shipping to you and the professional know-how they are putting into the sample.  Take this sample of expensive sauce and get it in front of as many people as you can.  Bring it to work, call friends, family, etc.  Try it yourself.  Ask someone who is a chef or cook... take notes and after the bottles are kicked, compile those notes and have a discussion with the Co-Packer.  Let them know.  Then they make the changes and get you another sample batch.  Once again, get this in front of everyone until the last drop is done.  Tinker, and repeat  until satisfied.  THEN lock it in.  There's more than just a 1-time setup "fee" for hundreds with no justification.
I don't see any reason why you would pay a copacker for this. Make a couple gal of sauce at home and collect feedback.

Costs about $20 in bottles and $20 in ingredients.

Not legal to sell, but certainly legal to give away and collect feedback. I did that for the better part of 8 years. You don't need a copacker for recipe development/prototyping. That's a very costly way to find out if your recipe needs tweaking.

A good copacker should understand how ingredients scale and make suggestions for your final recipe. From there maybe you do a "test batch" - if the test batch is good, sell it.

As for the kitchen. $70k won't even get you a decent capper - a full production line is in the 100s of thousands of dollars. Bottle orienter, accumulation table, labeler, capper, liquid filler,heat tunnel, bottle sterilizer, accumulation tables, etc. Plus the gas-fired kettles and the engineering to make sure that the conveyors and everything is working together.

You might be able to build a commercial kitchen for $70k but it won't be anywhere near as automated/efficient as a copacker.
 
Lucky Dog Hot Sauce said:
I don't see any reason why you would pay a copacker for this. Make a couple gal of sauce at home and collect feedback.

Costs about $20 in bottles and $20 in ingredients.

Not legal to sell, but certainly legal to give away and collect feedback. I did that for the better part of 8 years. You don't need a copacker for recipe development/prototyping. That's a very costly way to find out if your recipe needs tweaking.

A good copacker should understand how ingredients scale and make suggestions for your final recipe. From there maybe you do a "test batch" - if the test batch is good, sell it.
 
I rebuttal this with my finding that even after making my own small batch Cinder dozens and dozens of times over again... the very precise, clinical production by the co-packer somehow tasted different.  Not in a bad way, but in a precision way.  Perhaps it's the farmer they used for the chilies?  Perhaps it's a different farmer for the butternut squash?  But for whatever reason, the taste was just a tad different in an almost intangible way.  So I used this to adjust, test, adjust, test and re-tweak until I personally was satisfied.  All the while still using my hand-developed base recipe.
 
Another intangible element is the aesthetics.  The sauce from the copacker seems to be a slightly more robust ruby red than mine.  mine was always a fire-red deep orange color.  A positive improvement, but something I didn't achieve at my test kitchen.
 
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